Diverticular disease is a relatively common gastrointestinal disease that becomes even more common with age. The National Institutes of Health estimates that about a third of adults in their 50s have the first “stage” of diverticular disease — diverticulosis. By the time we reach our 80s, that number exceeds 70%.
Diverticular disease happens when tiny sacs or pouches form in the wall of the intestine. Usually, these sacs cause no symptoms, and many people never know the tiny pouches are there unless they’re discovered during a colonoscopy or other procedure.
The pouches sometimes become inflamed or infected, a condition called diverticulitis. Without treatment, diverticulitis can cause serious — even life-threatening — complications. In these instances, surgery may be needed to remove the diseased parts of the bowel.
The team at Desert West Surgery offers advanced gastrointestinal surgery for people with severe diverticular disease, relieving painful symptoms and restoring normal bowel function. Here are four diverticulitis symptoms you should know about.
1. Belly cramps
Not surprisingly, infection and inflammation in your colon can cause a lot of pain. Most people feel cramps in the lower left quadrant of their abdomen, but some develop more severe pain on the right side. Your abdomen might also be tender to the touch. Pain can be quite intense and last for days.
2. Nausea or vomiting
Like any digestive disorder, diverticulitis can make you nauseous and even cause vomiting. You might notice your appetite is off, and you don’t feel like eating. Even your favorite foods may not seem appealing, and some foods can make inflammation — and nausea it causes — much worse.
Like other infections, diverticulitis often causes a fever. Fever is part of your body’s natural “defense system” against infections. By raising your temperature, your body attempts to kill off the pathogens causing the infection.
4. Constipation or diarrhea
Everybody has constipation or diarrhea occasionally, but with diverticulitis, the change in bowel habits is significant and long-lasting. While diarrhea can occur because of irritation in your bowel, constipation usually happens when inflamed, swollen tissue makes it hard for stool to pass. Severe inflammation can eventually lead to a life-threatening bowel obstruction.
Mild diverticulitis can usually be treated successfully with rest and antibiotics to eliminate the infection, along with dietary changes to avoid irritation in the future. More severe forms of diverticulitis may require surgery to remove the diseased parts of the colon that is no longer functioning normally.
It’s worth noting that while diverticulosis is very common, diverticulitis — the infection “stage” — is relatively uncommon, affecting less than 5% of people who have diverticulosis. Other bowel problems, like irritable bowel syndrome, can cause similar symptoms. No matter what, these symptoms need to be evaluated so you can get treatment as quickly as possible.
If a colonoscopy reveals diverticula, but you don’t have any symptoms, our team can provide you with lifestyle guidance to potentially prevent infections and inflammation. We may also prescribe other lab work or more frequent colonoscopies to monitor the condition.
Don’t ignore your symptoms
Persistent or severe abdominal pain should never be ignored. While some symptoms may be due to a transient “stomach bug,” others can signify a more serious problem that needs prompt medical care. To learn more about diverticulitis treatment, including state-of-the-art surgery for severe cases, book an appointment online or over the phone at Desert West Surgery today.